Photo: Esther Lin
Liz Carmouche appears to be getting more of a pass as an undeserving UFC title challenger than other fighters like Nick Diaz and Chael Sonnen. A large part of this is that fans and media are choosing to focus on other established narratives instead.
The current era of the UFC has seen matchmaking decisions that were nearly unthinkable in the promotion's past. Title challenges from guys coming off losses are suddenly normal with Chael Sonnen moving up in weight to challenge Jon Jones following a loss to Anderson Silva, Frankie Edgar dropping down in weight to challenge Jose Aldo following two losses to Ben Henderson and Nick Diaz getting a shot at Georges St. Pierre despite a loss in his last fight followed by a year long suspension for his second failed drug test in Nevada.
For all the noise that those title challenges have caused, very little attention is being paid to Liz Carmouche's lack of credentials for her shot at Ronda Rousey's title in the UFC's first ever Women's MMA bout.
A few facts about Carmouche's resume:
- Carmouche has zero wins over fighters currently sporting a winning record.
- Four of her seven career wins are over fighters with one or fewer career wins.
- Career record against top ten fighters according to the very solid MMA Rising rankings 0-2.
- Carmouche rebounded from back to back losses to Marloes Coenen and Sarah Kaufman with wins over Ashleigh Curry and Kaitlin Young to end up in the title shot. Curry came into the fight with a 1-0 record and now is 1-2 while Young went 0-2-1 in 2012, 1-1 in 2011, 1-1 in 2010, 0-1 in 2009, 0-2 in 2008. You have to go back to Young's career opening four fight win streak in 2007 to find a year with a winning record.
Sure, there was a little bit of uproar when the fight was first announced, but that quickly faded.
And none of this is to say that Carmouche, currently ranked #7 by MMA Rising and #9 by Fight Matrix, is not a talented fighter who could one day have a legitimate case as a title challenger. Carmouche is also a well spoken, entertaining personality who has handled her media responsibilities for the fight incredibly well thus far.
But the resume simply does not read like "legit title challenger."
The combination of narratives from the simple "women are finally in the UFC!" to the more complex stories about Liz as the UFC's first openly gay fighter seem to be the leading reason why there has been far less controversy over her title shot than those of Diaz or Sonnen.
General sports blogs like With Leather have been biting on these stories over the past month:
..before Carmouche was signed to fight Rousey in the UFC’s first ever women’s championship match, if you Googled "UFC gay", the two most common results were Dana White using the F-word and Ultimate Fighter contestant Dakota Cochrane’s gay porn past, which White has previously acknowledged being "cool with".
Maybe it’s a coincidence that Carmouche is in the UFC now as the best possible competition for Rousey, or maybe it’s simply a scratch-my-back scenario that helps White look a little better as he tells activist groups to "F*ck off". Either way, if you Google "UFC gay" now, the main story is Carmouche, and that’s good, because it’s time.
Of course, Carmouche is not the "best possible competition for Rousey." The UFC is plainly aware of that when Dana White's story when first announcing the fight was along the lines of "Carmouche is who wanted the fight." A kind of suggestion that fighters like Miesha Tate -- who lost a thrilling bout to Rousey last March -- or Sara McMann didn't.
Tate came out and said that she was never offered the fight but would have absolutely accepted it while McMann and camp said they also weren't offered the fight. Something that Dana said was a lie after The Ultimate Fighter 16 (via MMA Weekly):
"Ronda Rousey is a bad ass, she’s the champ, her opponent stepped up to the plate and wanted this fight with her when others didn’t, I don’t give a (expletive) what they say. That’s a fact," White said on Saturday night following the TUF 16 finale.
Speaking specifically about McMann’s claim that she was never offered the fight, White says he respects her decision to turn down the bout against Rousey, but he’s not backing down on the fact that she was offered the fight and she said "thanks, but no thanks".
"She’s definitely one of the girls that’s going to be in it, but she said she didn’t say it, but she said it. She wants a fight or two before she fights Ronda Rousey, nothing to be embarrassed about, Ronda Rousey’s nasty. You want a couple fights before you fight her? That’s no big deal," White said about McMann.
"But don’t walk around talking (expletive) that you didn’t say it, when you did say it."
Similar to the Sonnen vs. Jones situation, we have White trying to steer discussion away from the worthiness of a challenger by throwing other fighters under the bus as afraid of the fight -- and liars to boot! And, at least in this case, it seems to be working fairly well.
Dana has also been very excited to push the "first openly gay fighter" narrative. It should be stated that this is an important moment in a sport notable in its moments of disturbing homophobia and misogyny. Moments that have allowed otherwise silly organizations to have enough material to make videos like this:
But there were other ways to get Carmouche on the card and still be able to embrace her sexual orientation. Carmouche vs. McMann for the next title shot -- a fight which would give either a legitimate claim to #1 contender -- on the undercard with the Tate vs. Rousey rematch headlining the show would have provided the best of both worlds.
But Dana has been very up front about why women's MMA is in the UFC saying it's "The Ronda Rousey Show." And when you set up a limitation like that, there certainly isn't any room for a second, non-Rousey bout on the card.
And that is why it's important to not ignore the qualifications of someone like Carmouche in this situation and get lost in the other narrative aspects of the fight. While Women's MMA has come to the UFC it has not arrived on equal footing. Fans and media should be just as vocal about a title fight without a legitimate challenger in a women's title fight as they are with the men. The UFC needs to know that the same expectations exist if there's any chance of this really picking up momentum.
Of course, we all know that what the UFC wants next for Rousey anyway is a fight with Cyborg Santos, a woman who hasn't fought in 13 months and counting due to a steroid suspension and has not fought at 135 pounds. So maybe hoping for change here is ultimately pointless.